SUPREME COURT JUSTICE INSPIRES STUDENTS
“They hate it when I do this,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said before being guided by her visibly-anxious security team into the crowd of students and faculty from Metro State and CU Denver. This refusal to stay seated on stage was emblematic of the Justice’s second visit to Auraria. Her exuberant presence and hands-on approach to her life wouldn’t allow her to take a passive role in the open forum; she was there to engage with students, and she was determined to do so as personally as she could.
Appropriately titled “A Conversation with US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor,” the Sept. 1 event was mostly devoted to one-on-one contact with students: after a brief interview on stage, Sotomayor climbed bleachers and waded through the rows of floor seating to shake hands and answer questions up close and personally.
Sotomayor was nominated for her position in 2009 by President Obama. When Congress confirmed her nomination, she became the first Latina and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court. “My entire living family flew in from Puerto Rico to attend my induction,” Sotomayor said. “That’s a lot of people.”
While not directly stated, it was implied that Sotomayor’s decision to return to Auraria so soon was influenced by Metro’s own commitment to diversity: 37 percent of its students are people of color, and 31 percent are first generation college students.
Sotomayor was raised speaking Spanish as her first language and initially struggled through primary education. “It wasn’t until around fourth grade that I really began understanding what I was being taught,” Sotomayor said.
She would then go on to graduate with high honors from Princeton University and Yale Law School and ascend the ranks of her career rapidly: at the time of her induction to the Supreme Court, she was only 55 years old. “You have choices that you make in life,” Sotomayor said. “Some will make you successful, some will create obstacles. I chose to spend my time educating myself. The most empowering moment I had was to learn the power of words—to be able to paint a vision that other people wanted to listen to.”
By extension, she is as thoughtful about her actions and words as a person can be—especially when she’s acting on behalf of the country. “Law practiced in the noble way means that we are helping people,” Sotomayor said. “Law should be service; it should be about how to make the community better.”
The event was strictly inspirational. She openly refused to talk about anything overtly controversial, saying that herself and her fellow justices respected each other too highly to feed into toxic partisan politics. Before opening up the floor to student questions, she said she wouldn’t talk about ongoing cases or contemporary political debates. “Who I’m supporting for president doesn’t matter,” Sotomayor said. “I’m only one vote. Who are you voting for?”
Immediately following this, she joined the crowd to answer about succeeding as a marginalized person in an oppressive society, collaborating with people who have opposing worldviews, and making academia more accessible. The assembly of students spoke to Sotomayor as if she were family, and she responded to everyone as if she felt the same, repeatedly demonstrating her passion for the people she represents and faith in the upcoming generations.